As we begin 2022 many of us take time to reflect on the ups and downs, disappointments and joys, beginnings and endings of the previous year. We set intentions for the new year. How can you make empowered choices in your life to support your thriving, health, and wellbeing no matter what lies ahead? One practice that cultivates our resilience and strengthens social ties and self-worth is gratitude.
Gratitude is a feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks. As graduate faculty in the Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coaching Program in the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, I regularly keep up on studies that impact the health of our mind and body. Research indicates being grateful can:
• lower blood pressure
• improve immune function
• reduce cardiac inflammation
• increase happiness
• improve relationships
• decrease depression and anxiety
• enhance optimism
• improve sleep
• enhance stress regulation
We all could use a boost in our physical, mental, and emotional health. This one simple, free, and always available practice can have tremendous benefits. As a transformational coach supporting and guiding others through a holistic health and wellness lens, my clients report as they commit to a gratitude practice, the positive impacts often ripple out to family, friends, coworkers and their communities.
How do you practice gratitude? Here are a few suggestions:
• Jot down blessings in a notebook.
• Thank a friend, caregiver or stranger face-to-face.
• Sit in quiet reflection and contemplate what you appreciate about your life.
• Spend time in nature.
• Offer thanks before eating.
• Walk mindfully noticing the positive through sight, sound, smell, and touch.
Grateful people have a particular linguistic style that uses the language of gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance. Add words of gratitude to your thoughts and speech throughout your day.
Have questions you consider daily. Ideas include:
• What touched me today?
• Who or what inspired me today?
• What made me smile today?
• What’s the best thing that happened today?
• What act of kindness did I offer or observe today?
Experts recommend adding variety to your gratitude practice by expressing your thanks in different ways each day. Practice noticing both big and small events. This will assist you in keeping your practice meaningful and fresh. Remember, what you focus on grows.
Practicing gratitude impacts you on a cellular level. When you express or receive gratitude, at the neurochemical level, gratitude acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – the ones that manage your emotions, anxiety, immediate stress responses and make you ‘feel good’.
Have you ever had an intense and sudden emotional reaction, and when you reflect on it later, you often wonder why you overreacted? This is referred to as an amygdala hijack and it can leave you feeling embarrassed and exhausted as epinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol are dumped into your system.
This is an optimal time to practice gratitude. In that moment, you can take a deep breath, focus on your heart, and remember one person in your life you are grateful for. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and slows your heart and breathing rates and lowers your blood pressure. Your body enters a state of relaxation and recovery. When you engage in gratitude practices, you spend less time in fight and flight, protect and defend, and FEAR (false evidence appearing real). You can choose to respond rather than react out of automatic conditioning.
As you become more centered, balanced, resilient, and confident, your relationships can improve. According to social psychologists, gratitude is an emotion that directly targets building and sustaining social bonding and reinforces positive relationships in the future. Your ability to be empathetic, tolerant, and build trust expands your connections to others. You will likely find yourself more open to new ways of thinking and knowing. This increases your ability to invite and understand another’s point of view that may be different than yours.
“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” -Brene Brown
Relationships can be enhanced at home, work and in your community. Research has linked gratitude and related traits like engagement to positively impacting the workplace in all these areas: Productivity, profitability, quality, loyalty, safety, absenteeism, cost, and performance.
Grateful organizational citizens are more likely to volunteer for extra work assignments, take time to mentor coworkers, be compassionate when someone has a problem, and encourage and praise others.
So, as you begin the new year, consider adding gratitude to your daily routine. It is a gift you can give yourself, your family, your coworkers, and your community.
Have comments, feedback, interested in more details on the research? Is there a holistic mind-body health or wellness topic you would like to see in this column?
Be in touch.
Michele Rae, RPh, MA, NBC-HWC is the founder of The Center Within, LLC and author of “Living From the Center Within: Co-Creating Who You Are Becoming.” She provides holistic coaching designed to accelerate and support personal, professional, and organizational transformation.
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